Get to Know Counterparts

At the beginning of the pandemic, Brendan Murphy adopted a cat. Becoming a cat dad was the first time Murphy had committed to anything other than Counterparts in ten-plus years, stretching all the way back to Hamilton, Ontario, where the band formed. For the past six albums, Murphy has screamed about his battles with anxiety and depression. In front of empty strip mall bars and packed festival pits, he has wrestled against his hatred for the world and himself. But with Counterparts’ 2020 tour already canceled, Murphy found comfort in his fluffy new companion.   

That newfound creature comfort was short-lived. Just 7 weeks after being rescued, Kuma caught feline immunodeficiency virus. When Murphy learned that his cat had 3-6 weeks to live, he sobbed so hard that he popped a blood vessel. 

Kuma ended up pulling through, at least for a little while. But his initial brush with death crushed Murphy. “Begging from the floor / As you stare in the face of starvation.” Those are the first words on Counterpart’s seventh album. What follows only piles more despair and anguish on top of that emotional  wreckage. A Eulogy for Those Still Here did not come easy. Bringing this album into the world took such a toll on Murphy that he’s not sure there’s anything left in the tank for another one. But if this is the final Counterparts album, then the band can rest peacefully. They’ve gone down with a blaze of glory that seals their legacy in fire and brimstone. 

Counterparts have been alive and kicking for practically their entire existence. If you’ll exclude drummer Kyle Brownlee for just one sentence, this fivesome have been banging their heads together since they were seniors in high school. Naturally, they’ve withstood a fair share of growing pains. They’ve chewed through 4 drummers and 6 guitarists, but A Eulogy for Those Still Here does welcome back axmen Alex Re and Tyler Williams, who were around to witness the band’s ascent as youth crew acolytes. 

In no time, Counterparts denounced the self-fulfilling prophecy of their debut. They turned a deaf ear to shirtless, fist-pumping positivity on what pissed-off hardcore heads decried as a sophomore slump. But the band amassed an even bigger flock on their third go-around. The Difference Between Hell and Home broke new ground on several avenues. It marked the first time that Counterparts joined forces with superproducer Will Putney, who helped  incorporate  bone-churning breakdowns, somber ambient passages and abstract introspection. That stylistic shift led to a deal with Pure Noise Records, where Counterparts and labelmates like Knocked Loose have elbowed to the forefront of melodic metalcore.   

A Eulogy for Those Still Here delivers more of what melodic metalheads have come to crave from Counterparts. The band returned to Putney’s studio over in Belleville, New Jersey, and what they concocted is a dark and stewy mixture that hulks out of even the puniest speakers. You can’t go wrong with any of these songs. But “Flesh to Fill Your Wounds” wins the award for most heinous, nose-wrenching breakdown. The drop D chug crushes you in the face like a meteor. 

As for the rest of the riffs on this album, they are, to liberally paraphrase Forrest Gump, like a box of chocolates: you never know what nasty treat you’re about to bite into. Will it be another teething thrasher? Or maybe a heavenly cloudburst of tremolo picking? Re and Jesse Doreen certainly aren’t shy about stomping the chorus pedal. “Whispers of Your Death” showers on the delay until the guitar melody glistens like a bloodstained samurai sword. “Bound to the Burn” is a righteous shredder, writhing and twitching beneath a godless hammer of double bass kicks like a prisoner nailed to the cross. 

On a pure vocal scale, Murphy slots somewhere between Turnover and an active volcano. His death growls are charred and gurgling and spew out of his throat like lava. Sometimes he’ll even bust out a choked banshee wail. But if your little ears are too sensitive for his powerlifter grunts, A Eulogy for Those Still Here is cut with plenty of harmonies that are as piercing as an army of angels. More soft textures bubble up as you sink into the track list. “Soil II” is buried six feet under cinematic post-rock while a veil of shoegaze shrouds Murphy’s cleanest vocals on “Skin Beneath a Scar”. 

“I fall before your eyes like rain,” Murphy sings, washed out by waves of distortion. He’s still a poet at heart. Counterparts sound nothing like Purity Ring, but the lyrics on A Eulogy for Those Still Here further profess Murphy’s admiration for their gory twist on ill-fated romance. “Sworn to Silence” has him placing pulled teeth inside your palms. Other songs are encrusted with apocryphal imagery: deformed halos, sermons spoken in tongues, a mass grave of saints.   

But his days quoting Whitman have long withered. Here, he is flogged unrelentingly by grief and doubts. A Eulogy for Those Still Here is a tormented, rageful and sometimes disturbing listen. “Unwavering Vow” curdles into a cringy murder fantasy that reeks of emo’s problematic tendencies. Mostly though, Murphy spits venom right back at himself. “What Mirrors Might Reflect” is shattered by self-loathing. An epically brutal breakdown leaves him dragging his face through broken glass, finding nothing worth saving (“I see no god in me”).  By album’s end, he’s dreaming of his own coffin.    

“Backwards in both wrists, I carve goodbye”. Those are the last words on what could very well be the final Counterparts album. In the end, the band had more fun writing A Eulogy for Those Still Here compared to their last time around. They were loosened up by the pandemic’s sleeper hold over the traditional album cycle and dove deeper into their sensitive, slowcore side while still throwing plenty of bones to the stage divers. But even though Murphy has run into writer’s block before, this time around sounds like a real tug of war. His cat was dying. His relationship was crumbling. Meanwhile, the outside world was teetering on the edge of the abyss. There were too many nights where he locked himself in the recording studio until dawn, only for Counterparts merch guy to find him lying facedown on the floor.     

But Counterparts might have no choice but to continue. “Obviously, if we put this record out and everyone loves it, and we’re the biggest band in the world, you’d be stupid to just quit after that”. That’s Murphy talking to Upset in October, mere days before the album dropped. It’s been two months now and Counterparts are still nowhere close to becoming the biggest band in the world. That’s not surprising. Music this heavy is intimidating. It can be perceived as dumb and hateful and violent. But that perception is changing. Demi Lovato is out here rocking Voivod. Heck,a hardcore band just got nominated for the same Grammy as Brandi Carlile. You’re still more likely to catch me banging my head to My Bloody Valentine than Bullet for My Valentine. So it makes sense that Counterparts are the band that finally lured me over to the dark side with a song about a cat. Even if A Eulogy for Those Still Here is the final nail in their coffin, Counterparts have won enough converts to rise from the dead.    

Don’t miss the chance to see Counterparts live and in the flesh. They’re playing Underground Arts on Monday night. Tickets are sold out. But you can get on the waitlist. And hey, if you’re up for a drive, go catch them on Sunday in Asbury Park.

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